Gray Dogwood is a shrub, usually not over 6 feet high, forming a thicket. Stems are mostly smooth but with some wart-ish bumps, and gray except for the newer twigs which are reddish-brown and have pale lenticular lenticels.
Leaves are opposite, entire, stalked, ovate to lance shape and taper to a pointed tip, pale green on the underside. The lateral veins are evenly spaced and tend to curve to the leaf tip. Leaves turn to a deep reddish purple in Autumn contrasting with the whitish drupes and their red stalks.
The inflorescence is a branched cluster that is usually more elongated than round, sometimes with a convex top or a pyramidal shape, always at the end of stems, blooming in early summer.
The flowers are perfect, small, each about 1/4 inch wide, 4-part with pale white spreading lance-shaped petals. The calyx has 4 short teeth. There are 4 stamens with yellow anthers placed alternate with the petals,and one pistil with a single greenish-yellow style that has a blunt tip. The ovary is a deep yellow color.
Fruit: Fertile flowers produce a globular, ellipsoid shaped drupe, 4 to 8 mm in diameter, green initially but turning white in the fall. Each flower stalk, which was originally white like the flower, turns to a conspicuous red as the fruit form and matures, as do the branches of the panicle itself. Each drupe usually contains 1 hard stone seed, 3 to 6.5 mm, slightly pointed.
Habitat: In the Upland Garden it has been considered a plant that needs to be controlled by the periodic prairie burn. It is commonly found in Hennepin County. The plant itself will form thickets from the root rhizomatous system via underground runners. Propagation can also be by seedlings planted before early summer. The plant will tolerate shade but does best in the open with sun and only in sun will you get the contrasting fall colors of leaves and fruit. Soil moisture should range from wet mesic to dry mesic.
Names: The genus, Cornus, is from the Latin cormu which refers to a 'horn'. Most references believe that name was applied as a reference to the density of the wood of this genus, which also includes the boxwoods. Dogwood is very dense and was once used for loom shuttles and in old English "Dagwood" referring to its use in making daggers, skewers, and arrows. Cornus is also the old Latin name for the cornelian cherry, Cornus mas. The species, racemosa, is applied to a plant having a raceme - that is a central stalk bearing a cluster of flowers each on its own stalk - as this plant has, but due to the branching it should be called a panicle. The author name for the plant classification, ‘Lam.’ is for Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) French naturalists who published on botany and zoology and is known for his theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In earlier years this species was known as Cornus paniculata.
Comparisons: There are four Dogwoods in the Garden. All have similar looking flowers. An identification key with comparison link is presented below these photos.
Above: The flowers are borne on a short branched raceme, not a flat-topped cluster like the other dogwoods in the Garden.
Below: Typical leaf with stalk and pointed tip, no teeth and veins that curve toward the leaf tip. The underside of the leaf is pale green - almost whitish.
Below: Grayish bark color on mature twigs and stems. A young prior year twig in the spring showing characteristic reddish-brown color.
Below: 2nd photo - Green fruit of early August.
Below: Fruit of late September with the conspicuous red fruit stalks. Note the nice fall color of the leaves.
Below: Each drupe contains (usually) a single hard seed - seen here in the green immature stage.
Below: Native dogwoods are rather leggy. 1st photo - An example of the native plant that is growing in partial shade, and (2nd photo) the nursery trade cultivar 'Muszam' which forms a more rounded compact landscape shrub than the native plant.
|Dogwood Species||C. racemosa||C. obliqua||C. alternifolia||C. sericea|
|Common Name||Gray Dogwood||Pale Dogwood||Pagoda Dogwood||Red Osier Dogwood|
|Alternate Names||Panicled Dogwood||Silky Dogwood||Alternate-leaf Dogwood|
|Height & Size||to 6' forming a thicket||3 to10' shrub||to 30' small tree||to 9' in thickets|
|Flowers||All four dogwoods have small 4-part white flowers that are borne in branching clusters.|
|Flower cluster||nearly as high as wide and NOT flat topped||Flat-topped, flower stalks silky (hairy)||Flat-topped, mostly at the ends of branches||Flat-topped|
|Bloom period (typical - varies with season)||mid- to late June||late May to June||Late May to mid-June||Early May onwards.|
|Leaves||Opposite, entire, stalked, oval to lance shape, pale under, veins curve to tip.||Opposite, entire, stalked, narrow elliptical shape, taper at both ends, pale under, veins curve to tip.||Alternate, entire, stalked, broadly oval, rounded base, taper at tip. Glossy green above, form clusters at end of branches. 'Quilt-like' surface.||Opposite, entire, stalked, oval to lance shaped, 5 to 7 pairs of veins, whitish under.|
|Branches||Gray, smooth, some wart-ish bumps||Purplish||Greenish, smooth. Twigs red.||Younger branches reddish in fall, winter and spring|
|Mature Fruit||White with conspicuous red stalks||dark blue||dark blue||white to lead|
Notes: This plant is indigenous to the Garden area. Eloise Butler catalogued it on April 29, 1907 (listed as Cornus paniculata). This plant was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time (listed as Panicled Dogwood). Gardener Cary George added plants in 1989 as did Curator Susan Wilkins in 2012. It adapts to a wide range of habitat and is native throughout Minnesota except the far SW and the NE corner.
There are 6 native dogwoods of the Cornus genus found in Minnesota. In addition to the 4 in the Garden, detailed in the table above, there are Bunchberry Dogwood, C. canadensis; and Round-leaf Dogwood, C. rugosa.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"